A live-in boyfriend killed a 17-month-old toddler by shaking and squeezing her to death, a Richland County prosecutor told a jury Monday.
“He squeezed her so hard until he broke two ribs,” 5th Circuit assistant solicitor Joanna McDuffie told a jury of six men and six women in an opening argument as Judge James Barber looked on.
“He shook her and beat her and left her for dead,” McDuffie said, telling the jury that little Kaitlyn “Kay-Kay” Hill’s brain and eyes were bleeding from the trauma allegedly inflicted by her mother’s boyfriend, Antwan Gaddist.
It was the first day in a child-abuse death trial that is expected to last at least a week.
Gaddist, 35, is charged with homicide by child abuse in the May 23, 2011, incident. He has been in the Alvin S. Glenn Detention Center since May 2011, when Richland County sheriff’s investigators charged him with the crime.
If found guilty, Gaddist could get up to 20 years in prison.
In her opening statement, McDuffie told the jury that Kaitlyn’s mother, Miesha Miller, had left Gaddist alone in the house to take care of Kaitlyn and her twin brother, Kaleb Hill. Miller had gone to work and decided not to take the twins to day care, McDuffie said.
Gaddist for some reason became angry, McDuffie said. “He was frustrated and he was mad, and he grabbed Kaitlyn by the ribs and put his hands around her tiny 17-month-old body and he shook her and kept shaking.”
Emergency personnel took Kaitlyn to a hospital, McDuffie said, where she was later pronounced dead.
When Richland County investigators first questioned Gaddist, he told them “Kaitlyn was asleep and he didn’t know what happened,” McDuffie said.
But in another interview, he told detectives he “shook her so hard she went unconscious for a few minutes.”
Gaddist said when he found the girl unconscious, he called Miesha Miller at work, and Miller called 911.
McDuffie stressed that when first responders arrived on the scene, they first went to the wrong apartment complex, then to the wrong building. Finally, at the correct building, they rushed up three flights of stairs to Kaitlyn’s apartment, where they found the girl lying unconscious on the floor alone.
McDuffie told the jury that defense attorneys would bring up evidence that showed firefighters and emergency medical technicians “started cussing at each other” at the scene, but it should focus on why and how Kaitlyn died.
But defense attorney Eric Staggs told the jury that law enforcement “put blinders on” and disregarded other theories of the case.
“That’s an innocent man, sitting at that table,” said Staggs, pointing at the 5-6, 130-pound Gaddist, hunched over at the defense table between two other defense lawyers, Tracy Pinnock and Doug Strickler, all of the Richland County public defender’s office.
Saying Kaitlyn’s death was “a tragic accident” that Gaddist had nothing to do with, Staggs told the jury that Gaddist found the child lying unresponsive on a bed after Miller had left for work.
Staggs also told the jury it would hear from witnesses who had known Gaddist all his life, and they will testify he is “a gentle soul – that’s not who he is.”
The prosecution is expected to put up more than a dozen witnesses, including investigators, pathologists, doctors, Kaitlyn’s mother, firefighters and EMTs.
Besides McDuffie, assistant solicitors Luck Campbell and Nicole Simpson are prosecuting the case.
Reach Monk at (803) 771-8344.